The sky is always grey in Berlin, a cold and cool blast of non-color that hurts his eyes while he’s looking up – so he looks around and to the sides of buildings. His father hurries Otis along, but his eyes take in the endless, crushing grey with wide hopelessness.
“You’ll not be so slow at your work, will you?” asks his father. He quickens his step so that the lines in concrete are bridged two at a time. Even though Otis’ legs are even longer and finer than his father’s, his steps waver and vary until he catches the almost audible tightening in his father’s jaw muscles.
Otis holds his letter of introduction in his left hand. The other he had jammed into the forward pocket of his Duffel coat. He tries to affect the confident stride so desired by his age set, but is entirely too interested in the glimpses of lives.
Here is an older man resting his tired legs, a hausfrau shopping, two people his own age laughing at their own cleverness. They all have grey eyes, crowded with the city, it’s age. Then, as though he’d always been there, there appeared the Berliner. Like I’ve always thought he would be.
Of course this red-lipped and slick-haired Berliner would be in the city of Der Eigene and Nollendorfplatz and Eldorado. Otis calls to his father, “Look!”
“You’ll have time to look later.”
“No, at him.” He does not point, but indicats the thin man with a stare.
The father catches sight of the still figure, like another rain-eaten stone angel. The bulge of his cheek muscle swells. “You’d do better to look ahead, my son. This isn’t a thing for you to see. Say to me that no one at all is there. Say that you just see morning fog. Think instead of where you’re to be employed.”
The Berliner doesn’t smile. One sharper corner of his mouth tilts enough to let Otis know that he’d been noticed. The Berliner’s suit slips around his body in tight and well-formed wool. Otis stares a long time before realizing that the image of the man has stayed with him over at least two blocks. Buses and dogwalkers have passed in front of him, and the image of his Berliner stays with him. He’s almost touchable.
The Berliner is surely inviting, but to what? A stupid kind of grin fixes itself on Otis’ wide, pale face. The scent of Berlin is catching to him, and this king he has spotted has inspired him to adopt the city to his own love. He shivers, and his father glowers at so much expressivity.
There he is again, around Friedrichstraße as they cross. Could it be getting darker? Or is the Berliner simply so luminous that all else dims? The bold red lips of the strange figure of a dandy move as a whisper, calling him. “Father!” says Otis quickly. “I think I need to—”
“What? What else could you want? There, just ahead.” The Köring sign has a stately gothic typeface, gouged into the gilt and wood.
The voice tickles Otis’ ears. “You’re a pretty country boy, come to play in my town?”
Otis shivers again, the cool grey leeching into his skin, bit by bit. His skin is grey when he sees it in his peripheral vision. Bit by bit, he smiles more. He sees only grey for himself, and feels cool fingers in his hair, and sees nothing nothing nothing but blood red Berliner lips.
The man who had come to Berlin with a son saw nothing in the street, and knew he’d lost all he’d had.
Otis – the “son of Otto”. Schubert’s rendering of the poem into song is eight stanzas, so this is the son of that eight.